September 2015 Archives

Can Hollywood save NASA?, Washington Post

"NASA is having something of a moment. "The Martian" debuts this week to huge expectations: starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, the $100-million-plus film highlights not only the ingenuity and pluck of those who would go to the stars, but also the bureaucratic stumbling blocks facing our spacefarers at home."

The Martian is a great movie, but it sends the wrong message about our happy little journey to Mars, Houston Chronicle

"What I'm concerned about is the way in which a mission to Mars is portrayed in the book and film. It looks a lot like an Apollo mission to Mars, and in 2015 that's a problem. From outward appearances, almost all of the hardware is NASA hardware. All of the important decisions are made by NASA people. There isn't a whiff of commercial space in the film. Not a SpaceX, nor even a Boeing. It's all NASA. (Not that NASA isn't great. It is.)"

Keith's note: One on hand "The Martian" shows how NASA people can do almost anything when they put their minds to it. On the other hand it shows that even a future NASA is plagued by seemingly inescapable bureaucratic inertia. This strange duality was inherent in "Apollo 13" set nearly half a century ago - and seems to be what people expect will exist at NASA decades from now. Its almost as if one person at NASA can't excel at something without having someone down the hall doing something stupid. The time span between "Apollo 13" and "The Martian" is some 60 or so years. I'm not sure what to think about an agency that still can't find a better way to do things after 60 years. Its as if no one can imagine a future NASA different than the NASA of today - or yesterday.

40-50-60 years and NASA can't fix itself? I am not sure it will be around when this movie is supposed to happen. Is this any way to explore the solar system? No ... after 19.5 years of ranting online about this, I still don't have an answer.

Do any of you?

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

"NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids. Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses."

Venus and a bizarre metal asteroid are leading destinations for low-cost NASA missions, Science

"NEOCam competed in the last round of Discovery, but it had some competition from outside NASA: the B612 foundation. The nonprofit organization, dedicated to finding hazardous asteroids, said it would raise private money to build its own space telescope, Sentinel. But B612 has struggled to meet its fundraising goals and scheduled objectives, and, earlier this week, it was reported that NASA had ended a cooperative agreement with B612. Hap McSween, a planetary scientist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, says NEOCam's selection is not unrelated to the end of the B612 agreement. "The choice of NEOCam here is perhaps a reflection of harsh reality," McSween says. "If this is going to happen, NASA is going to have to pay for it."

Keith's note: Isn't it a litte odd that the decision to cancel the Space Act Agreement with B612 for its "Sentinel" asteroid hunting mission suddenly came to light on the eve of Discovery mission finalists being announced -- and that JPL's asteroid hunting "NEOCam" mission is among those selected for further work?. These spacecraft even look a lot alike. JPL folks clearly saw Sentinel as competition - even if it was Sentinel team that first pushed the envelope on this whole idea. JPLers were pushing Lindley Johnson and others at NASA HQ to end the Sentinel agreement. At this point Johnson could use all the help he can get given how miserably his organization's NEO work has been progressing.

NASA OIG Report: NASA's Efforts to Identify Near-Earth Objects and Mitigate Hazards (2014)

"The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 required the Agency to implement a "program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of near-Earth objects equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter" and established a goal of cataloging 90 percent of these objects by 2020. However, even with a ten-fold increase in the NEO Program budget in the past 5 years - from $4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2009 to $40 million in FY 2014 - NASA estimates that it has identified only about 10 percent of all asteroids 140 meters and larger. Moreover, given its current pace and resources, the Agency has stated that it will not meet the goal of identifying 90 percent of such objects by 2020."

NASA Cancels Space Act Agreement With B612 Foundation, earlier post

NASA Terminates Space Act Agreement with B612 Foundation for Sentinel Spacecraft

"NASA spokesmen Dwayne Brown and Dave Steitz confirmed via email that NASA terminated the agreement with B612. Steitz explained that B612 had not met an important milestone in the SAA -- starting Sentinel's development -- and NASA therefore terminated the agreement because "due to limited resources, NASA can no longer afford to reserve funds" to support the project. "NASA believes it is in the best interest of both parties to terminate this agreement but remains open to future opportunities to collaborate with the B612 Foundation," he added."

Keith's note: This certainly sucks. Odd that NASA gave up this easily. Curiously NASA is promoting a #JourneyToMars program with a fantasy budget and rockets whose launch dates slip year after year. But wait: B612 was going to pay for the spacecraft. NASA only had to use it.

If you read the actual Space Act Agreement between NASA and B612 these two articles pretty much rive everything else:

"ARTICLE 3. GATES Four Gates are identified that constitute milestones in the determination of the benefit to NASA from the Sentinel Mission. In the event that the Sentinel Mission does not fulfill a Gate, NASA will assess the impact thereof to the NASA benefit from the Sentinel Mission to determine whether or not to proceed with this Agreement. Any follow-on agreements or modifications agreed to by the Parties in the course of implementing the Sentinel Mission as described herein shall be fully incorporated in this Agreement and shall constitute a modification of this Agreement in Accordance with ARTICLE 24 Modifications.

ARTICLE 6. FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS There will be no transfer of funds between the Parties under this Agreement and each Party will fund its own participation. All activities under or pursuant to this Agreement are subject to the availability of funds, and no provision of this Agreement shall be interpreted to require obligation or payment of funds in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act,(31 U.S.C. ยง 1341)."

So B612 pays for, builds, launches, and operates Sentinel - and all NASA needs to do is provides the things needed to use it, collect data etc. NASA can walk away from this agreement at any time and B612 does not get a penny from NASA. I can tell you that there are others (i.e. traditional space mission vendors like APL, JPL, etc.) who tell people that they'd be building a spacecraft like Sentinel (but paid for by NASA) if it were not for the fact that NASA keeps saying "No, no we'll just use Sentinel".

The coming train wreck for Commercial Human Spaceflight

"NASA at its highest leadership level has committed to try to allow commercial space flight providers a great deal of flexibility and cost control. There are ways to do this which will not compromise safety in design or operation. But having NASA civil servants as the arbiters of whether or not thousands of requirements have been satisfied is not the way to accomplish neither safety nor cost efficiency. So whether Commercial Space Flight gets $6 billion or $3 billion or $50 million, the entire effort is on the way to a train wreck."

Keith's note: 5 Years Later and this is still a concern.

James McLane

James Calvin McLane III

"James Calvin McLane III, an engineer, author, caver, collector, space technology expert, motorcyclist, photographer, Lutheran, adventurer, and friend, died in his home of a heart attack on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. He was 70 years old. In between traveling the world working in oil and gas, he had a distinguished career working in the footsteps of his father for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)."

Keith's note: The result of the closed door Humans Orbiting Mars report has been released. According to this report missions to Mars only orbit the planet by 2033. Crews would control robots on the surface. If there's enough money then the report suggests a landing in 2039 but they'd only stay on the surface for 24 days. Long duration missions on the surface of Mars would not start until 2043 a decade after NASA's current (but unfunded) plans. All of the missions in this report require hardware that has not been designed or budgeted for (just like NASA). NASA will be required to walk away from ISS in 2024 so as to free up money for Mars - and the report assumes that human spaceflight budgets will be flat with growth for inflation for several decades. This plan puts humans on Mars a quarter of a century away.

NASA is already challenged to mount a program that takes 20 years - Planetary Society wants to stretch that even further - indeed, in their plan serious surface expeditions would have to wait nearly 30 years. Of course there's always the magic unicorn of foreign partners, commercial donations, or other sources of money (not spelled out) which might pop up and make things happen earlier - or maybe not. Oh yes: this plan makes no mention of the two year slip in launching the first crewed Orion mission which should push everything to the right by a year or two.

In summary the Planetary Society has taken NASA's various plans, thrown them up in the air, rearranged the pieces and tried to do things on the cheap. The net result is an unrealistic delay in getting humans to the surface based on hardware that is not even budgeted for by NASA. I am trying to picture how Congress is going to fund a program for 20 years that almost puts humans on Mars.

Yesterday the Planetary Society posted an article on the Mars water news which included this gem: "This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

It is quite obvious that the Planetary Society would be quite happy if it took longer to put humans on Mars than NASA and others would like it to take since "Filthy meatbag bodies" don't belong on Mars - if at all possible.

Destination Phobos: 'Humans Orbiting Mars' report goes public, Geekwire

"Critics, including NASA Watch's Keith Cowing, say the Planetary Society's "orbit-first" blueprint is too timid and relies on hardware that NASA has not yet budgeted for. "I am trying to picture how Congress is going to fund a program for 20 years that almost puts humans on Mars," Cowing wrote on Tuesday. [Planetary Society's Casey] Dreier, however, was doubtful that a more accelerated schedule would draw enough political support. "It'd be great if we could do it in 10 years," he said. "But that will take a lot of money over not a lot of years, and I don't see any pathway to making that happen."

- Planetary Society Does Not Want Humans on Mars, earlier post
- Not Everyone Wants To Be The Martian, earlier post

Stay the Course To Mars, OpEd, Chris Carberry and Joe Cassady, SpaceNews

"What should be made clear, however, is that the next president will not need to reinvent our national space policy. The overall policy direction is fine, but despite a lot of progress with architectural elements and growing support from a number of stakeholders and policymakers, a clear pathway (including necessary precursors) has yet to be fully articulated."

Keith's note: There is no American space policy other than go to Mars - someday - without identifying the money needed to do so. The Planetary Society would love to stall those notional NASA Powerpoint plans an extra decade if they could. So long as space policy is focused on what space advocates want nothing much will happen. Only when they find a way to make it truly relevant to a much, much larger portion of the 99.999% of Americans who are not space fans will there be a chance to change the dynamic. Otherwise its just going to be 4 more years of space advocates howling the same old ideas at the wind - and wondering why no one will listen to them.

Astrobiology Hearing Today

Hearing charter

"This hearing will review the scientific methods employed to search for life, examine recent scientific discoveries in the field of astrobiology (the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe), and assess the prospects of finding life beyond Earth over the next decade."

- Archived webcast
- Hearing information
- Prepared Statements by: Ellen Stofan, Jonathan Lunine, Jacob Bean, Andrew Siemion
- Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing Examines NASA's Astrobiology Portfolio
- House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Assesses Progress in the Search for Life beyond Earth

NASA Is the Unlikeliest 'Design Firm' in Human History, Observer

"Earlier this month, a young maker named Ahmed Mohamed was arrested while wearing a NASA t-shirt after bringing a homemade clock to his high school. Photographs of Ahmed in handcuffs circulated around the globe along with the space agency's logo creating a new context for its design and purpose. NASA tweeted a response to the arrest with a STEM-related message of support and for a moment, the agency's brand became a symbol of social progress."

Let's let Ahmed go back to being a kid, Dallas Morning News

"In the last week alone, he has had star turns at a science conference in California and a technology summit in New York. He has shared the spotlight with the CEO of Google, the queen of Jordan, the founder of Mashable. Ahmed is a social-media phenomenon, a one-word brand, a global political symbol. Ahmed's a star. He's also a 14-year-old kid, and I hope he can return to normal 14-year-old kid life when the Ahmed World Tour 2015 is played out. The last thing he needs that any kid needs is to be a divisive political symbol."

Larry Wilmore interviews Ahmed Mohamed about arrest, USA Today

"After watching Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show interview 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, we feel the need to up our tech game. And get a NASA shirt. The kid is just too cool."

Keith's note: Ahmed Mohamed brought an ad hoc science project to school. A digital clock to be specific. His (apparently ignorant) teacher thought it was a bomb - because - who knows. Ahmed was taken to the police station in handcuffs and questioned for hours without access to a lawyer or his parents. He was wearing a t-shirt with a huge NASA logo on it when he was taken into custody. How many kids wear a NASA t-shirt to school? He wore that same t-shirt for days after his questioning in various media interviews. Its not like that is the only shirt he owns. As such, one could reasonably conclude that Ahmed is a big NASA fan.

So ... here comes "The Martian" and all of that wonderful rah-rah can-do pro-NASA goodness blasted into a zillion pairs of eyeballs. NASA is working closely with the movie to promote a variety of things to inspire the next generation of space explorers. Great idea (really). Well ... one of those future explorers was taken into custody while wearing a NASA t-shirt because he got creative and pushed the envelope. He has subsequently been offered internships, guided tours, and all manner of things by companies and organizations - and he seems to be totally cool - even gracious - with the opportunities that have found their way to him. Even the White House asked him to drop by next month for an astronomy thing.

Ahmed is a space fan - big time. So what does NASA do? Do they even bother to invite Ahmed to visit NASA or offer access to its activities like so many others have done in other areas? No. All he gets is a couple of tweets. Yet the agency blissfully trips over its collective self to give unprecedented media access for a movie about fake astronauts - while a real future Mark Watney gets the cold shoulder after showing precisely the same character traits that NASA and Hollywood are hyping.

How pathetic and short-sighted.

Did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with 'The Martian'?, Yahoo

"Talk about some otherworldly timing ... or was it? Did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with the film's release? "No, the timing was dictated by the publication of the Nature Geoscience article, which was released today," Laurie Cantillo, a NASA spokeswoman, told Yahoo News. It would be a bit hard to imagine the space agency sitting on major Mars news in order for it to collide with a Hollywood movie."

Keith's note: 1. The research paper was submitted to Nature Geoscience months ago and the EPSC sessions were organized months ago as well - before any release date was chosen for "The Martian"
2. The release date for the movie was set months ago by movie marketing people who have no idea what this announcement is even about.

Were NASA and "The Martian" wrong to leverage this coincidence with cross-promotions? Heavens no. They have been cross-promoting this movie and NASA exploration activities for months so they'd look rather lame - and kinda stupid - if they did not take the time to cross-promote this blatantly obvious big news about Mars when NASA announced the press event last week. Given the glacial pace at which science papers crawl toward release and NASA's quirky way of dealing with embargoed science results there's no way any Hollywood marketing person could - or would - adjust a movie release to an indeterminate and ever shifting date in the future.

NASA PAO and "The Martian" are paying a lot of attention to each other right now - each for their own reasons. That said, the net result (one would hope) of this interaction is that an immense audience has a great time at the movies and that they leave the theater with something inspiring lingering in their minds about exploration.


Oh yes: this video was just posted on Twitter - a salute to NASA from Matt Damon.

NASA's Mars Announcement: Present-day transient flows of briny water on steep slopes, Planetary Society

"This is one of many reasons I'm glad that The Planetary Society is advocating an orbit-first approach to human exploration. If we keep our filthy meatbag bodies in space and tele-operate sterile robots on the surface, we'll avoid irreversible contamination of Mars -- and obfuscation of the answer to the question of whether we're alone in the solar system -- for a little while longer. Maybe just long enough for robots to taste Martian water or discover Martian life."

More Vaporware From The Space Advocate Community, earlier post

"In April 2015 the Planetary Society held an invitation-only "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop wherein they unveiled their idea for a mission to Mars. At a quick press conference after the event (no media were allowed to attend the workshop) the Planetary Society promised more detail would be made public - later. It has been 6 months. Nothing but crickets from the Planetary Society."

Keith's note: Now it is becoming clear what is really behind the Planetary Society's "Humans Orbiting Mars" plan. They don't really want to have Humans On Mars. Indeed, they never really have wanted them there at all. And their unreleased plan (as much as is known thus far) involves defunding the International Space Station as well thus cutting another human spaceflight effort. And what would Humans Orbiting Mars do? They'd drive robots on Mars.

Keith's note: I have already had to delete several posts by people that were needlessly partisan and/or gratuitously insulting. If NASAWatch readers are just going to go partisan and/or personal on these election postings then I am going to not allow any comments on election 2016 posts. Got that folks? Stick to policy.

NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today's Mars, NASA

"New findings from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times."

Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars

"We find evidence for hydrated salts at all four locations in the seasons when recurring slope lineae are most extensive, which suggests that the source of hydration is recurring slope lineae activity. The hydrated salts most consistent with the spectral absorption features we detect are magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Our findings strongly support the hypothesis that recurring slope lineae form as a result of contemporary water activity on Mars."

Delirious Rover Hallucinates Water On Mars, The Onion

"Earlier this morning, mission control received an enthusiastic transmission from Curiosity indicating that it had detected a significant volume of cold, clear, crystal-blue water capable of supporting life," said project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, adding that the demented rover then made a beeline for what its strained, dust-clogged sensors determined to be a sparkling desert oasis encircled in waving palm fronds."

NASA to Announce Mars Mystery Solved

"**Nature Geoscience has Embargoed Details until 8 a.m. PDT/11 a.m. EDT Sept. 28)**

NASA will detail a major science finding from the agency's ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at 8:30 a.m. PDT (11:30 a.m. EDT) on Monday, Sept. 28 at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website."

Keith's 24 Sep note: As is standard practice NASA JPL and researchers have already provided advance information on this news to hand-picked news media - but not to others. But let's try and figure out what the big 'ol mystery is. Lujendra Ojha is one of the presenters at the press event and he's totally into recurring slope lineae on Mars using MRO. Alfred McEwen is a frequent co-author. And they have been trying to figure out how these features form on Mars. One would assume that they have figured that out.

NASA Mars Orbiters See Clues to Possible Water Flows (2014)

"We still don't have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL [recurring slope lineae], although we're not sure how this process would take place without water," said Lujendra Ojha, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and lead author of two new reports about these flows. He originally discovered them while an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, Tucson, three years ago, in images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter."

Recurring slope lineae in equatorial regions of Mars, Nature (2013)

"The presence of liquid water is a requirement of habitability on a planet. Possible indicators of liquid surface water on Mars include intermittent flow-like features observed on sloping terrains. These recurring slope lineae are narrow, dark markings on steep slopes that appear and incrementally lengthen during warm seasons on low-albedo surfaces."

Keith's 24 Sep update: A NASAWatch reader artfully tipped us off to this session of the European Planetary Science Congress 2015 in France on Monday, 28 September - and one paper authored by several of the participants (McEwen and Ojha) in the NASA press conference:

17:00-17:15 EPSC2015-786 Recurring Slope Lineae on Mars: Atmospheric Origin?, AS McEwen, M Chojnacki, C Dundas, L Ojha, M Masse, E Schaefer, and C Leung

"Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) are seasonal flows or seeps on warm Martian slopes. Observed gradual or incremental growth, fading, and yearly recurrence can be explained by seasonal seeps of water, which is probably salty. The origin of the water is not understood, but several observations indicate a key role for atmospheric processes. If sufficient deliquescent salts are present at these locations, the water could be entirely of atmospheric origin."

Hinners Point Above Floor of Marathon Valley on Mars

"The summit takes its informal name as a tribute to Noel Hinners (1935-2014). For NASA's Apollo program, Hinners played important roles in selection of landing sites on the moon and scientific training of astronauts. He then served as NASA associate administrator for space science, director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA chief scientist and associate deputy administrator of NASA. Subsequent to responsibility for the Viking Mars missions while at NASA, he spent the latter part of his career as vice president for flight systems at Lockheed Martin, where he had responsibility for the company's roles in development and operation of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, Phoenix Mars Lander, Stardust and Genesis missions."

Noel Hinners, earlier post

"He did everything you could do in and around NASA once," Cowing said."

Keith's note: Noel would be totally humbled to learn of this.

NASA Initial Government Shutdown Planning

"The Administration continues to strongly believe that a lapse in funding should not occur. There is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations, and the Administration is willing to work with Congress to enact a short-term continuing resolution to fund critical Government operations and allow Congress more time to negotiate an agreement that invests in middle-class economic priorities and helps our entire economy grow. However, prudent management requires that we continue to prepare for all contingencies, including the possibility that a lapse could occur at the end of the month."

NASA Shutdown Plan in the Event of a Lapse in Funding (Sept. 25, 2015), PDF

Mars Needs Money

Aerojet weighs higher offer for Lockheed-Boeing venture - sources, Reuters

"Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc is considering raising its $2 billion offer for United Launch Alliance, a rocket launch venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, but faces big hurdles after a public rejection of the bid last week, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. ... The sources said Aerojet faces an uphill climb given growing tensions between the two companies over the past few years. This week ULA dumped Aerojet as its solid rocket motor supplier and signed a long-term deal with its rival Orbital, which is not currently in that business."

Aerojet to pay Orbital $50 million over Antares rocket accident, Reuters

"Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc will pay Orbital $50 million to settle a dispute stemming from an Antares rocket launch accident last year that destroyed a load of cargo bound for the International Space Station, Aerojet said on Thursday."

United Launch Alliance Selects Orbital ATK to Provide Solid Boosters for Atlas V and Vulcan

"Today United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK, Inc. announced a long-term strategic partnership in which Orbital ATK will become the sole provider of solid rocket boosters for ULA's Atlas V and Vulcan launch vehicles, effective in 2019 when the new motors are ready for launch."

ULA, The Four Amigos, and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post

"But wait: the same Aerojet Rocketdyne/Boeing/Lockheed Martin/Orbital ATK crowd (aka "The Four Amigos" in industry circles) is also building SLS - and ULA was always a sanctioned monopoly (until SpaceX showed up and spoiled that party). Everyone seems to be hedging their bets these days via acquisitions and consolidations - instead of trying to build newer and better rockets that actually do things more cheaply/efficiently - except SpaceX, I guess."

SpaceX Upgraded Falcon 9 First-Stage Static Fire, SpaceRef Business

"SpaceX has released the following video of the first static fire test of the upgraded Falcon 9's first stage with densified propellant which occurred on September 21."

Is Space Mining Legal?, Popular Science

"In May, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would give asteroid mining companies property rights to the minerals they extract from space. Called the Space Act of 2015, the bill now awaits the Senate's decision. ... In an article in the journal Space Policy, Fabio Tronchetti, a lawyer at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, argues that the Space Act of 2015 would violate the Outer Space Treaty. He writes: States are forbidden from extending their territorial sovereignty over outer space or any parts of it. Despite arguments claiming otherwise this prohibition also extends to private entities. In essence, Tronchetti argues that if the U.S. passes this bill, it will confer rights to space companies that the U.S. doesn't have the power to give."

Keith's note: This is like the legislation declaring the Apollo landing sites and their artifacts as a "National Historic Park". How can the U.S. Congress make laws, impose regulations, and confer rights regarding activities - by anyone - on bodies in the solar system over which it has no jurisdiction?

Why would any company pour billions into a mining project if they cannot own anything that they dig up? A mining site is composed of stuff that a miner wants to take and eventually sell to someone else. You can't sell something that you do not own. And if no nation can claim territory in space (where those mining sites would be located) then how can any nation make laws that give someone the right to mine these places?

- H.R.2262 - SPACE Act of 2015

"Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained them, which shall be entitled to all property rights to them, consistent with applicable federal law and existing international obligations."

- Outer Space Treaty

"Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

- Protecting the Apollo Sites, earlier post

Keith's note: In April 2015 the Planetary Society held an invitation-only "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop wherein they unveiled their idea for a mission to Mars. At a quick press conference after the event (no media were allowed to attend the workshop) the Planetary Society promised more detail would be made public - later. It has been 6 months. Nothing but crickets from the Planetary Society. A paper was published by some of the people behind the plan but no one has ever said if this paper bears any relevance to what the Planetary Society wants to do. They said there would be a document released but it has never materialized. The space advocacy community loves to talk behind closed doors inside their echo chamber. But when it comes to making the details available to the rest of us they continually fail to deliver. But they continue to send out those fundraising pleas in the mail, don't they? Caveat emptor.

Oh yes - the first crewed mission of SLS (which seems to play a role in the plan) has been delayed by 2 years - thus pushing everything back.

- Stealthy Humans Orbiting Mars Workshop Update, earlier post
- Making Space Policy In Secret (Again), earlier post
- Good News Everyone: Another Closed Door Humans to Mars Thing, earlier post
- Quick: Read The Planetary Society Mars Plan While It Is Free, earlier post

Kickstarter Success for Xtronaut Game Supports Space-Science Outreach Programs

"Dante Lauretta, Leader of the NASA OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission and University of Arizona Professor, combined his expertise in space mission planning and technology with his passion for strategy gaming to create Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration. The Xtronaut game captures the various challenges and excitement of planning a space mission. Lauretta co-founded Xtronaut Enterprises with space entrepreneur Michael Lyon to increase awareness of OSIRIS-REx and other space missions through entertainment and education programs. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to support the game on September 12, 2015, and have exceeded their funding goal of $15,000 with over 300 backers."

Kickstarter campaign

Commercial Spaceflight Federation Welcomes New Members and Leadership

"The Commercial Spaceflight Federation welcomed several new member companies at its Executive Board meeting this week, expanding its membership to more than 60 companies. ... Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida, was reelected as the CSF chairman."

Keith's note: This seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest to me. I would think that you'd want someone in a leadership role in an organization such as this who was interested in equally spurring space commerce in all 50 states without deference to any particular state - especially when government-led programs have been focused in just a few states - such as Florida. Indeed if DiBello pushes to get things going in other states (e.g. new spaceports) he's not doing his job in the best interest of Florida. But what do I know.

JSC Vs JPL Culture

NASA Space Technology Research - Development - Demonstration and Infusion 2016

Keith's note: Yet another NASA civil servant who wants to limit taxpayer interaction with regard to NASA solicitations with an education/technology exchange subject matter. Last week it was someone at NASA HQ who did not want any faxes (while NASA field centers always list them) - but preferred email or phone calls. Their solution was to put 000-000-0000 for their fax number. This week we see that Bonnie James doesn't even want to talk to you. Just email. FWIW according to people.nasa.gov her phone number is not 000-000-0000 - it is 256-544-6985 and her real email is bonnie.f.james@nasa.gov.

"Point of Contact
Name: Bonnie F. James
Title: STMD Senior Investment Strategist
Phone: 000-000-0000
Fax: 000-000-0000
Email: HQ-STMD-SpaceTech-REDDI@mail.nasa.gov"

GAO: FAA Commercial Space Launch Industry Developments Present Multiple Challenges

"For fiscal year 2016, FAA requested a 16 percent increase in staff for its commercial space launch activities to keep pace with industry growth. Office of Management and Budget guidance indicates that if an agency is requesting significant changes in full-time positions, it should provide a detailed justification of the changes and discuss alternative implementation strategies. However, FAA's fiscal year 2016 budget submission does not provide a detailed justification of the staffing changes and does not consider alternatives to hiring additional staff. Because FAA has not done this, Congress lacks information that would be helpful in making decisions about the resources needed for the agency's commercial space launch activities. FAA officials said that the agency lacked additional workload metrics, which officials are now developing to include in future budget submissions for its commercial space launch oversight activities."

How We Go to Mars, op ed, Rick Tumlinson, Space News

"So what do we do? As many of these approaches are viable, we must go back to the Why? to begin culling out the dead ends. Since a notable group of space leaders at the 2015 Pioneering Space Summit agreed settlement is the goal and science is something you get if you do settlement (the reverse does not apply), I will adopt that assertion as my standard in the process of elimination."

Keith's note: Yet another word salad op ed about going to Mars - this time from Rick Tumlinson, one of the usual suspects in space advocacy community. The author asks dozens of questions yet does not answer a single one. The last sentence of this rambling piece was all that Tumlinson probably needed to say to get his point across.

Tumlinson and his New World Institute had all the space advocates in Washington all pumped up for his "Pioneering Space National Summit" event in February 2015. No media were allowed in. If one were to believe all of the pre-game hype, discussions were to be had amongst the pillars of the space community, and momentous statements intended to break the deadlock and propel us all into space were to be issued. As I noted in June 2015, 4 months after the event "Checking the website there seems to be little in the way of output - just two documents only a couple of pages long that are mostly semi-edited meeting notes/outlines: Report: Deliberation #1 - Vision (Group A) and Report: Deliberation #2 - Strategy (Group A). Two other documents are apparently being edited. That's it?" Nothing has changed. Its as if nothing happened.

But wait - there's more - now the same New Worlds Institute that provided none of the promised space policy goodies from Pioneering Space National Summit is holding New Worlds 2015 in October 2015 an event with the usual suspects which claims to be "the first comprehensive gathering of the people, companies and institutions that will open space to human development and settlement". I have seen meetings like this every 3 years for the past 40 years. L-5 people used to talk like this in the 1970s.

These events accomplish nothing. Why not just take all the money that goes into running them and just buy cubesat launches and put real space technology in the hands of the next generation instead of enabling this endless stream of pointless blabber from all of us middle-aged tired space advocates?

Choir practice in an echo chamber - that's all these events are.

- Pioneering Space National Summit: So Far, Nothing But Crickets
- Yet Another Plan For Outer Space, earlier post
- Pioneering Space National Summit Details Emerge, earlier post
- Alliance for Space Development: Yawn - Yet Another Space Group, earlier post
- space Advocates Work Together By Not Working Together, earlier post
- Move Along. This Is Not The Space Policy You're Looking For., earlier post

Keith's 21 September Update: According to a stament provided to NASA Watch: "NASA is dedicated to STEM education and the engagement of students of diverse backgrounds and interests. We will be looking for opportunities to invite Ahmed and other students to participate in agency activities, and we will extend those invitations privately at the appropriate time."

Keith's 19 Sep note: The following was provided by NASA PAO in response to a request from NASAWatch:

"NASA has publicly voiced support for Ahmed and his interests across multiple social media platforms and reinforced the importance of encouraging students to explore science and technology studies and careers. His is a story that can help inspire new generations of explorers. Individuals across NASA also have expressed their personal support.

"After the President's social media post, the White House extended an invitation for Ahmed to attend the annual Astronomy Night with the world's leading scientists, astronomers, and fellow students in October. A number of NASA representatives along with other science agencies will be there to help support the event and interaction with Ahmed and other students.

"The agency has vibrant Education program that reaches students across the country and we're constantly exploring new ways to engage young Americans."

NAS Report: Review of the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions

"At NASA's request, the community-based Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) established the Special Regions Science Analysis Group (SR-SAG2) in October 2013 to examine the quantitative definition of a Special Region and proposed modifications to it, as necessary, based upon the latest scientific results. Review of the MEPAG Report on Mars Special Regions reviews the conclusions and recommendations contained in MEPAG's SR-SAG2 report and assesses their consistency with current understanding of both the Martian environment and the physical and chemical limits for the survival and propagation of microbial and other life on Earth. This report provides recommendations for an update of the planetary protection requirements for Mars Special Regions."

Keith's note: Russia (USSR) did this 4 times decades ago. Its all listed here on Wikipedia.

NASA/USAID SERVIR - A Partnership Connecting Space to Village

"NASA and USAID have accomplished a lot together. Launch of this important new hub in the SERVIR network, which includes SERVIR-Himalaya, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa and the Applied Sciences Team projects in Mesoamerica, is certainly tangible proof that what we're doing is working. We get a lot of questions about our Earth observation work at NASA. In fact, a lot of people aren't even aware that it's such a core function of the agency. But make no mistake, NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe. We have been since our founding."

Boeing Defense Head: ULA Not Being Sold, Defense News

"Boeing's top defense official said the company has no interest in selling off the United Launch Alliance (ULA), despite a bid by Aerojet Rocketdyne to buy the company. Chris Chadwick, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said ULA will be "a huge part of our portfolio going forward" and that there was "no serious consideration" given to the bid offer, reportedly for $2 billion. "This bid, we've really not spent much time on it at all, because we're focusing in a totally different direction," he said. A Lockheed spokesman declined to respond to Chadwick's comments, and an Aerojet representative did not respond by deadline."

- Has SpaceX Shocked The Launch Industry To Transform?, Earlier post
- ULA, The Four Amigos, and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, Earlier post

NASA's Response to Orbital's October 2014 Launch Failure: Impacts on Commercial Resupply of the ISS, NASA OIG

"Orbital's Return to Flight Plan contains technical and operational risks and may be difficult to execute as designed and on the timetable proposed. ... This tight schedule does not include a test flight for the modified system and provides limited opportunities for qualification and certification testing. ... when calculating the cost to NASA for the remaining four flights, Orbital did not use the per-kilogram pricing in the original contract and instead divided the price for the cancelled eighth mission by its contractual upmass requirement to arrive at a revised price per-kilogram. By accepting this pricing structure, NASA committed to paying $65 million more for these missions than the Agency would have paid if the original pricing had been used."

NASA could have cut costs after botched Orbital launch - watchdog, Reuters

"NASA missed opportunities to save millions of dollars following Orbital ATK's failed cargo run to the International Space Station last year, the agency's top watchdog said on Thursday. The NASA Office of Inspector General also questioned Orbital's plan to resume deliveries to the space station, a permanently staffed, $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth."

Smith Condemns Administration's Space Exploration Delays

"NASA announced today that its schedule for the first crewed mission of SLS and Orion will slip to 2023; this represents a two year slip from previous plans for the first mission by 2021. The agency announced similar delays last fall. Smith has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for failure to request adequate funding for Orion and the Space Launch System; the administration's FY16 budget request proposed cuts of more than $440 million for the programs."

OIG Report on SLS/Orion Ground Systems, earlier post

"NASA management noted a risk that the dates planned for SLS and Orion could slip and the GSDO review occur first. Accordingly, NASA should closely monitor the Programs to ensure any such risk is mitigated so as to avoid significant cost increases or schedule delays."

GAO Sees Through NASA's SLS/Orion Smoke and Mirrors, earlier post

"The Orion estimate does not include costs for production, operations, or sustainment of additional crew capsules, despite plans to use and possibly enhance this capsule after 2021. It also does not include $4.7 billion in prior costs incurred during the approximately 4 years when Orion was being developed as part of NASA's now-defunct Constellation program."

SLS Has Problems That Money Alone Will Not Fix, earlier post

"In addition, our ongoing work has found that the three human exploration programs are pursuing inconsistent and unrealistic schedule goals and that the Orion program is facing significant technical and funding issues that may affect NASA's overall schedule for its human exploration programs."

Congress and GAO Have Doubts About SLS Costs, earlier post

"According to the program's risk analysis, however, the agency's current funding plan for SLS may be $400 million short of what the program needs to launch by 2017. ... "Moreover, NASA's estimates do not capture the cost of the second flight of the 70-metric ton vehicle during EM-2, the costs of development work that will be necessary to fly the increased 105- and 130-metric ton SLS capabilities, and the costs associated with legacy hardware that will be used for the Orion program."

Empty Promises On NASA's Road to Mars, earlier post

"Now Charlie Bolden seems to derive a certain amount of happiness by saying "we are no longer 20 years away from Mars". What he is really saying is "Hooray - we now suck less at NASA".

Negative Progress Towards Putting Humans on Mars, earlier post

14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed arrested for bringing homemade clock to school, The Verge

"Police in Texas have arrested a 14-year-old boy for building a clock. Ahmed Mohamed, who lives in Irving and has a keen interest in robotics and engineering, put the device together on Sunday night. When he took it to school the next day, he was pulled out of class, interviewed by police officers, and taken in handcuffs to juvenile detention, after being told by teachers that his creation looked like a bomb. A picture reportedly taken by Ahmed's sister shows him in handcuffs at the juvenile detention center, sporting a NASA T-shirt and an understandably confused expression. Ahmed was fingerprinted, before being allowed to return home, but is still serving a three-day suspension from school."

Larger image

Irving 9th-grader arrested after taking homemade clock to school: 'So you tried to make a bomb?', Dallas News

"Ahmed Mohamed who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday. Instead, the school phoned police about Ahmed's circuit-stuffed pencil case. So the 14-year-old missed the student council meeting and took a trip in handcuffs to juvenile detention. His clock now sits in an evidence room. Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it's a clock."

Keith's note: Yea this is the right way to encourage the next generation of space explorers, engineers, entrepreneurs. Note that he was wearing a NASA T-shirt. This guy could grow up to be the next Mark Whatney. #IStandWithAhmed

Marc's note: It's election season north of the border with Canada heading to the polls to elect a new federal government on Monday, October 19th. Rarely does space enter the election picture. This year is different. In the last week one news story with national reach and an editorial have put space on the election map.

The Canadian Space Commerce Association, of which I'm the Executive Director, issued a press release two days after the election was called calling on all federal parties to commit to a long-term space plan to be completed by the end of 2016 with input from all stakeholders. The three main parties who have a chance to form the next government were contacted along with the media. The Canadian Press (Canada's equivalent to the AP) picked up on the story.

The good news is that the Liberals and New Democratic Party (NDP) have both committed to a long-term space plan. The ruling Conservatives had no comment. Here's the first story.

Liberals and NDP promise long-term space plan if elected, Canadian Press

The other news item is an editorial which appeared in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen from David Emerson who led a government mandated independent national review of the aerospace sector in 2012. Emerson is highly respected and a former government Cabinet Minister.

Emerson: Let's reclaim our status as a leading spacefaring nation

"The next, most critical stage will be a concrete plan for long-term investments in space infrastructure. Such a plan would include commitments to space investment priorities reflecting the needs of Canada, the operational objectives of government departments and agencies, and Canada's industrial capabilities."

The election result will determine which direction Canada heads. If the current Conservative government is re-elected the current course will be maintained which may not be a positive sign. If either of the opposition parties win, then positive change should happen.

Keith's note: If you go to people.nasa.gov and look up former NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin you will see that he is still listed in the agency's phone directory albeit with a non-NASA email and no phone. No other former NASA Administrator (or Deputy) is listed. Why is that?

http://images.spaceref.com/news/2015/griffin.jpg

Keith's note: JSC is webcasting part of their media event with some of the cast of The Martian (it was a last minute decision for JSC to put this on NASA TV BTW). In the movie there is artificial gravity on the ship that goes to/from Mars. The new ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman spent a lot of time describing what the 2.5 meter Centrifuge Facility could/might provide in terms of supporting human missions to Mars. But Shireman neglected to mention that NASA traded the development of the Centrifuge Facility and Module in one of its bait and switch moves to Japan to offset some ISS costs and then eventually cancelled it outright in 2005. But NASA JSC clearly doesn't want movie goers to know that NASA did dumb stuff like this.

Funny thing: back in the day (early 1990s) I was Payload Accommodations Manager for that the Space Station Freedom Program Office for the CF and CAM - and JSC fought that thing tooth and nail. Now they love it. Go figure.

Blue Origin Selects Florida's Space Coast for Production and Launch Site, SpaceRef Business

"Blue Origin has selected the Florida Space Coast to locate a new manufacturing facility and signed an agreement to use Launch Complex 36 (Pad B) to launch their new reusable rocket which they expect to fly from the Cape by 2020."

Marc's note: Launch Complex 36, Pad A, is being used by Moon Express.

Blue Origin: Coming to the Space Coast

"One of the unique things about our Florida operations is that we aren't just launching here, we're building here. At Exploration Park, we'll have a 21st century production facility where we'll focus on manufacturing our reusable fleet of orbital launchers and readying them for flight again and again. Locating vehicle assembly near our launch site eases the challenge of processing and transporting really big rockets."

Rubio Welcomes Blue Origin To Florida's Space Coast

The revolution will not be crystallized: a new method sweeps through structural biology, Nature

"In labs around the world, cryo-electron microscopes such as this one are sending tremors through the field of structural biology. In the past three years, they have revealed exquisite details of protein-making ribosomes, quivering membrane proteins and other key cell molecules, discoveries that leading journals are publishing at a rapid clip. Structural biologists say - without hyperbole - that their field is in the midst of a revolution: cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) can quickly create high-resolution models of molecules that have resisted X-ray crystallography and other approaches, and labs that won Nobel prizes on the back of earlier techniques are racing to learn this upstart method. The new models reveal precisely how the essential machinery of the cell operates and how molecules involved in disease might be targeted with drugs."

Keith's note: NASA has been thumping on the value of using the microgravity environment afforded by spaceflight as a way to create large, ultra-pure protein crystals - the kind you need to get the best structural measurements using x-ray crystallography. It was a cool idea with considerable merit. Full disclosure: part of my job at NASA back in the 90s was to promote this type of research and I did so enthusiastically. But it took NASA a long time to actually try this in space while the real world back on Earth pushed ahead.

Now, the ability to use exceptionally small amounts of material on Earth using high-precision, ultra-powerful x-ray sources has allowed materials developed for ground-based crystallography that exceed what is obtained from research using space-based materials. Recently crystallography itself, in its traditional form, is now being eclipsed by new methods that offer even more precise structural information - with no apparent need for the trip to and from space.

So where is NASA in this story?

Toronto Film Review:'The Martian', Variety

"But instead of trying to scare people off space travel, Scott and company recombine these elements in hopes of inspiring a generation for whom the moon landing and shuttle missions are now ancient history, practically nostalgia, while the American space program sits mothballed. While not propaganda per se, the film seeks to galvanize (rather than terrorize) those who might shape the future."

The Martian Review, ComingSoon.net

"Ridley Scott's return to space may defy credibility at times, but it's a joyous and triumphant tribute to science and the space program that's consistently entertaining, which should allow it to be a substantial crowdpleaser."

Ridley Scott's The Martian Is Sublime, Sophisticated Entertainment

"If you are worried about heading to space again with Ridley Scott after the grim, muddled Prometheus, fear not. His new space yarn, The Martian, based on the science-heavy novel by Andy Weir, is a pure delight, a tense survival tale leavened by an abundance of geeky wit and an array of fine actors at their snappy best. It's the first Ridley Scott picture in a long time that feels energized by its scope and ambition rather than buried under it."

Keith's note: Positive reviews. Lots of cross-over promotion videos and advertisements too. And NASA is engaged. Should be a great movie. But ... there are still no comments from Explore Mars (or any other space advocacy organizations) as to how the movie is going to increase NASA's budget. Of course, the space advocacy groups will all argue as to how such imaginary money should be spent since none of them agree with NASA or each other as to how humans should travel to Mars and what they should do there. Maybe the movie will inspire a new generation of space advocates that will actually do the things needed to go to Mars instead of just talking about doing them decade after decade after decade.

Space Advocates Think A Movie Will Send Humans to Mars. If Only., earlier post

NASA Invites Media to Explore Mars Science Fiction and Fact in Cinema

"Media are invited to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Tuesday, Sept. 15 for a fresh perspective on the journey to Mars. Cast members from the soon-to-be-released 20th Century Fox movie "The Martian" will meet with NASA scientists and engineers to see the real technology and spacecraft being developed for future Mars exploration. ... Media must be at Johnson to participate. The day will conclude with a full-length screening of "The Martian" at a nearby theater."

Keith's note: NASA has been pretty creative when it comes to tie-ins with "The Martian" so as to try and link public interest in the movie with what the agency does. Until now. if you are news media and you live in Houston NASA will give you a briefing and then an advanced screening of "The Martian". But only if you are in Houston. As for the remaining NASA centers and the other 49 states, if you are media you have to wait until 2 October. Funny thing: in the movie JPL is where all the smart people work. Oddly, for this media briefing, JSC can't even figure out how to do a webcast on NASA TV or a dial-in - then again that figures into what happens at JSC in movie's plot too ...

Keith's update: NASA PAO Tells me that there will be other Martian-themed events at other field centers. But only JSC has the advanced screening. Again, the ability to put any of this newsworthy and (one would hope informative) event on NASA TV or on a webcast is either beyond JSC's capability or (more likely) interest. Why tell people outside of 77058 what you are doing, eh? Again lots of behavior themes from the book happening in real life.

Keith's additional update: NASA TV added a webcast of part of the event at the last minute ....

Bad News From Earth

11 September 2001: Bad news from Earth, New Moon Rising

"In Washington, and all along the east coast, it was another one of those classic clear September days [Bill] Readdy had stopped to admire the previous week. While many were still on the commute into work, the attacks began. At NASA Headquarters, as with the rest of Washington DC, no one quite knew what was going on. Soon people were watching news footage of the Twin towers on fire in New York. Then came word of an explosion at the Pentagon and rumors (which later proved to be false) of another one at the State Department. Anyone looking to the west from Washington could clearly see a plume of dark smoke rising from across the Potomac. Meanwhile, rumors of another plane flying up the Potomac toward Washington made the rounds. Other rumors spread of an odd plane seen circling above the Mall. People quickly left their desks and, in the hours ahead, managed to find their way home. Soon the entire agency would either be shut down or shut off from the rest of the world. Shuttles were secured, and gates were locked."

NASA Remembers September 11th

"Upon further reflection, Culbertson said, "It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are."

Keith's 11 Sep note: One of the ways to contact NASA procurement personnel is by fax. This is the case at all government agencies. Indeed, NASA's various field centers incude Fax numbers in procurement notices. But not NASA HQ (it would seem). Oddly, all of their fax machines seem to have the same number i.e. 000-000-0000 as is seen on this current procurement notice Research Opportunities in Materials Science - MaterialsLab Open Science Campaigns for Experiments on the International Space Station. This notice states "Questions with regard to responding to this NRA may be addressed to the contacts referenced in the full solicitation document." So ... are they really suggesting that you send a fax (if that's how you need to communicate) to 000-000-0000?

Keith's 15 Sep update: NASA's response is that they put the 000-000-0000 in so that people will call or email and not fax. Duh, why not just say that in the notice?

A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science, Pew Research

"Fully 73% of Americans distinguish between astronomy and what is commonly considered a pseudoscience: astrology. Twenty-two percent of Americans incorrectly say that astronomy not astrology is the study of how the positions of stars and planets can influence human behavior. Another 5% give some other incorrect response."

Major Gaps Between the Public, Scientists on Key Issues, Pew Research

- "Astronauts are essential for the future of the U.S. space program": 59% of the public agrees whereas only 47% of AAAS members agree.
- "The Space Station has been a good investment for the U.S.": 64% of the public agrees while 68% of AAAS members agree.

- Recent Space Poll: The Public is Not Always in Synch With Space Advocates, earlier post
- Poll: Space Travel in the 21st Century: American Public Sees Benefits But Balks at Cost, earlier post
- Poll Suggests Public Concern Over Direction In Space, earlier post
- New Gallup Poll Reveals Americans Strongly Support Space Exploration, Believe it Inspires Younger Generation, earlier post

SpaceX Rival ULA May Get Boost In New Space Race, Investors.com

"Aerojet Rocketdyne made the offer, and negotiations are in advanced stages, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources. Those sources also said a buyout could enhance ULA leadership and improve funding for its development of U.S.-made rockets. The offer comes as United Launch Alliance is seeking to keep its position as the Pentagon's top rocket supplier while also grappling with economic sanctions on Russia that threaten ULA's supply of Russian-made RD-180 engines needed to power its Atlas 5 rocket."

Jeff Bezos' rocket engine plans could be snuffed out if this $2B deal goes through

"The problem for Bezos' Blue Origin is that the Kent-based space company is currently the leading contender to build a new rocket engine, the BE-4, to replace Russian rocket engines that now power the ULA's Atlas 5 rockets. But California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, long the nation's largest builder of rocket engines, badly wanted that contract, and has been fighting to beat out Blue Origin for the deal. So if Aeroject Rocketdyne buys ULA, the company will likely use its own engines on the Atlas 5, and not Blue Origin's engines."

Bid for ULA would cap a tumultous 18 months, and shake up the rocket industry, Washington Post

"Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military's resiliency," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in May. All of which may make ULA's board eager to sellfor the right price."

Keith's note: As I noted last week there is a Kickstarter effort to recreate the NASA 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual - the document that spelled out how NASA's new logo aka the worm logo - was to be used by the agency. Very retro cool. So what does NASA do they release the document online for free. Why not - its a government document. One small problem: the NASA online version is a pathetically ugly scan of the document whereas the Kickstarter team is going to make their version look as nice as the original.

By all means the Reissue of the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual on Kickstarter will be a vastly superior product. They exceeded their original $158,000 and are now at $683,456. Please support it.

The Care and Feeding of the NASA Worm Logo, earlier post

Stealth NIAC Forum

Keith's note: According to the last page of NASA INNOVATIVE ADVANCED CONCEPTS (NIAC), PHASE I APPENDIX NNH15ZOA0001N-NIAC_A3", 21 August 2015: "7. NIAC Virtual Q&A Forum NASA will host a virtual forum that will address key aspects of this Appendix. The date targeted for this forum is tentatively Wednesday, September 9, 2015. Specific details for the forum will be posted on the following website: http://www.nasa.gov/niac."

Despite the language in the Appendix, there is no mention of this event at http://www.nasa.gov/niac. This page NIAC Key Dates refers to the release of the August 2015 appendix release as "planned" and makes no mention of this forum. This page on the forum (mentioned in today's last minute email but not findable from the Technology Directorate home page) only appeared on 9 September 2015.

This note was sent out from stmd@listsrv2.nasaprs.com on 9 September 2015 at 11:59 am EDT for an event scheduled for 3 pm EDT on 9 September 2015 (that's 3 hours advanced notice): "On September 9, 2015, 3 PM EDT, the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program office in NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) will be hosting a Virtual Forum to address key aspects in Appendix NNH15ZOA0001N-NIAC_A3, released on August 21, 2015 which solicits Phase I proposals."

The @NASAIAC fan Twitter account run by one of NIAC's own official advisors (NASA NIAC has no official Twitter account) makes no mention at all of this solicitation or forum. The official @NASA_Technology Twitter account did make mention on 8 September 2015 however - but only once and only 24 hours in advance.

Little or no advanced notice - and no obvious mention at NASA.gov. What good are these events if no one knows about them?

Mars, national infrastructure, and dispelling myths, OP Ed, Chris Carberry and Blake Ortner, The Hill

"In addition to inflated perceptions of cost, some believe that when budgets for space missions are proposed, this constitutes entirely new spending (on top of the current NASA budget projections). In reality, the majority of mission budgets come from funds already projected within the NASA budget - it's mostly a decision of how we decide to use these NASA funds. This fall presents an ideal opportunity to engage the candidates. Mars exploration will be a hot topic as a result of the upcoming film adaption of Andrew Weir's novel, The Martian, that will arrive in theaters and generate a lot of discussion on the real prospects of human missions to Mars. Later in October, NASA will be presenting a workshop to select ten potential landing sites for human missions to Mars. The workshop is an important milestone for advocates of human exploration of Mars and will help connect the science fiction film, The Martian, with a very real potential future."

Keith's note: Yawn, these space advocates still hope that a Hollywood movie will shift the political calculus when it comes to sending humans to Mars. I most fervently wish them good luck in this regard. I'd love to see it happen. Alas, over the course of the past half century of space exploration and space movies this has yet to happen.

They also repeat the perennial space advocate complaint that "the general public and many policymakers have a vastly inflated perspective of the cost of human space exploration." OK Chris Carberry and Blake Ortner, can you tell us what your Humans to Mars Mission would cost - total amount and yearly run out? Can you also summarize the processes whereby the taxpaying public can be assured that cost overruns ala SLS, ISS, Shuttle, Mars Curiosity, will not occur? Oh yes - please show me where I can find details of the NASA budget increases that resulted from the blockbusters "Gravity" and "Interstellar". You can post your details in the comments section. Sometimes the problem with the cost of sending humans to Mars is not a large scary number rather its that no one comes up with the same large scary number - nor the source of the money required for *any* humans to Mars scenario.

Space advocates never explain why the remaining 99.99999% of the people who will pay for the humans to Mars thing should want to do so - especially when there are things that people see as being more relevant/important to themselves and their families. As Alan Ladwig recently noted NSF NIH gets budget increases - more than NASA - but no one makes movies about them.

- Space Movies Do Not Drive Space Policy, earlier post
- Space Advocacy By Space Advocates Is A Failure, earlier post
- Why Worry About Public Support For NASA If It Really Doesn't Matter?, earlier post
- Pioneering Space National Summit: So Far, Nothing But Crickets, earlier post
- Hollow Promises From Stealthy Inept Space Advocacy Organizations, earlier post
- Humans to Mars Summit: Wayne Hale Tells it Like it is, earlier post

Aerojet makes $2 billion offer for Lockheed-Boeing joint venture: sources, Reuters

"Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc has submitted a $2 billion offer to buy United Launch Alliance (ULA), a spacecraft launch services provider that is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, according to sources familiar with the matter. Aerojet Rocketdyne board member Warren Lichtenstein, the chairman and chief executive of Steel Partners LLC, approached ULA President Tory Bruno and senior Lockheed and Boeing executives about the bid in early August, the sources said. Aerojet Rocketdyne spokesman Glenn Mahone said the company would not comment on any negotiations that it was involved in with any company. Lockheed declined comment. No immediate comment was available from Boeing."

Keith's note: But Aerojet Rocketdyne will not own Boeing's or Lockheed Martin's rockets, will they? This is like buying a travel booking agency - not an airline - or a manufacturer. Can Aerojet Rocketdyne really expect to turn a multi-billion dollar profit selling someone else's rockets? And if they are getting Boeing and Lockheed Martin's rocket factories as part of the offer - is $2 billion even a real number? There seems to be a zero missing. Or are these companies really that uncertain of making a profit from commercial launch vehicles that they want to walk away from a half century of launching rockets for pennies on the dollar?

But wait: the same Aerojet Rocketdyne/Boeing/Lockheed Martin/Orbital ATK crowd (aka "The Four Amigos" in industry circles) is also building SLS - and ULA was always a sanctioned monopoly (until SpaceX showed up and spoiled that party). Everyone seems to be hedging their bets these days via acquisitions and consolidations - instead of trying to build newer and better rockets that actually do things more cheaply/efficiently - except SpaceX, I guess. Wait ... there's more: Blue Origin has an engine agreement deal with ULA. Jeff Bezos likes to buy things.

I smell an anti-trust lawsuit in the distance and/or a tech giant free for all. Or both. And if you thought that the previous congressional hearings on the whole ULA/SpaceX thing were fun ...

Stay tuned.

Decision looms on when to introduce new SLS upper stage, Spaceflight Now

"Officials initially planned to power the upper stage with a J-2X engine, a modernized powerplant based on the J-2 engine designed in the Apollo era. But managers decided the J-2X, which had roots in the canceled Constellation moon program, was overpowered for the job and sidelined the engine after a series of hotfire ground tests. NASA spent more than $1.4 billion on the J-2X engine from 2006 through 2014, an agency spokesperson said."

Using Jedi Mind Tricks to Sell NASA's Next Big Rocket (2014), earlier post

"The initial plan was to launch EM-1 with an upper stage composed of a modified Boeing Delta IV upper stage i.e. the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). After trying this for several years, and spending $400 million or so, NASA realized that this was not going to work. So they are going to ask Boeing to deliver a standard Delta IV upper stage and use that. NASA then wants to commence work on a 4 engine Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) that will only be used a few times."

NASA Set for New Round Of J-2X Testing at Stennis Space Center, (2013) earlier post

"NASA's progress toward a return to deep space missions continues with a new round of upcoming tests on the next-generation J-2X rocket engine, which will help power the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) to new destinations in the solar system."

NASA OIG: Final Memorandum on the Review of NASA's Plan to Build the A-3 Facility for Rocket Propulsion Testing (2008), earlier posting

"We found that NASA's Upper Stage Engine (USE) Element Manager, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, reviewed the J-2X rocket propulsion testing options and selected the A-3 test stand to be built at Stennis without the required formal reviews or recommendations of the NRPTA, or NASA's RPTMB."

NASA OIG: NASA's Decision Process for Conducting Space Launch System Core Stage Testing at Stennis, (2014) earlier post

"Similar to the OIG's conclusions 5 years ago, the OIG found that NASA failed to follow its internal policies or its agreement with the DOD when it decided to spend approximately $352 million to refurbish and test the SLS core stage on the B-2 test stand at Stennis."

NASA Has No Clear Use for the J-2X That It Once Needed, earlier post

Tight Timing: Congress Returns with Only a Few Days to Pass Funding for New Fiscal Year, American Institute of Physics

"There is both good and bad news about the twelve FY 2016 appropriations bills. Appropriators in the House and Senate have completed work, for the first time in six years, on their bills. Of note to the physics community, the House has passed measures providing funding for the Department of Defense's S&T programs, the DOE Office of Science, NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Nuclear Security Administration, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Geological Survey. Despite this progress, work on the appropriations bills has largely stalled because of continued disagreements between congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats and the White House, about overall spending limits."

NASA astronauts Mark Kelly and Terry Virts to address a National Press Club newsmaker breakfast

"Breakfast will be served at 8:30 a.m. with remarks followed by a question-and-answer session at 9 a.m. The event ends at 10:00 a.m. Tickets cost $23 for Press Club members (NPC Members may purchase 2 tickets at this rate) and $37 for all other non-member tickets."

Keith's note: Funny thing about this National Press Club event - news media have to actually pay to cover the events with NASA employees participating - even if they do not eat the rubbery, over-salted food. In addition, the National Press Club refuses to credential online space media for events that they do not charge for. I have been waiting for years for them to get back to me to explain exactly how I certify who I am and what I do. Here in Washington DC, people who show up at events with self-created media credentials end up talking to security/police in this post 9-11 world. But guess what: I'd have to self-credential myself since I am my own editor. NASA gave up on issuing media badges years ago. The release says "To submit a question in advance, put SPACETALK in the subject line and email to president@press.org before 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 11.". Yea like it will get asked. Truth be known these events are more like exclusive old boy network entertainment than "news". The questions that actually get asked by the NPC gatekeeper are so vapid and soft-ball as to not be worth the bother of answering - or covering.

Whisky goes where no dram has gone before, Guardian

"Whisky fired into space almost four years ago as part of an experiment has returned to Earth with enhanced flavour and character, according to its creator. A vial of unmatured malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay, Scotland, was sent to the International Space Station in a cargo spacecraft in October 2011, along with particles of charred oak. Another vial of the same whisky was kept at the distillery for comparison. ... Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling, said: "The space samples were noticeably different. When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardbeg's smoky, phenolic character shone through to reveal a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on Earth before."

ISS Commercial Research That CASIS Utterly Ignores, Earlier post (2014)

"This is an interesting commercial use of the ISS - if somewhat unconventional - one that has attracted actual private investment (from a high-quality, high-visibility, world-class manufacturer) at a time when NASA's scorecard is rather lacking in this regard. Imagine this: an actual biotech process that is being investigated in the unqiue environment of space with significant commercial backing and promotion. Of course, the NASA ISS National Lab and CASIS folks seem to be totally uninterested in how real commercial space activities happen."

Keith's note: CASIS still utterly ignores this whole project - but focuses instead on their golf game in space. Fermentation, distillation, and aging - regardless of what you are producing - are key industrial processes on Earth - ones that involve a lot of precise biochemistry. If something works differently in the space environment then that helps to expand the knowledge of microgravity-based biochemistry (both basic and applied) and the entire field moves ahead. Not so with the space-inspired golf clubs that actually do not use ISS-based research - which is what CASIS is supposed to be promoting.

Funny thing: this Ardbeg research was all done via Nanoracks - the one clear ISS success story that CASIS has had anything to do with. Oh .. but wait - this experiment was done via the ISS National Laboratory - not CASIS - so its the established policy of CASIS to ignore it. Come to think of it, the ISS National Lab people have not been chatty about this success story either.

Oh yes: when I first posted this photoshopped image in 2012 some people within NASA thought it was real and started to try and figure out how it happend i.e. a glass bottle [safety] with a brand name [no agreement?] freely floating around the ISS. Memos and phone calls happend. Oops.



Is Silicon Valley in Another Bubble . . . and What Could Burst It?, Vanity Fair

"And this is where it gets particularly murky. These are private companies, with private balance sheets, and the valuations they ascribe to themselves aren't vetted in the same way by the S.E.C. or public markets. These start-ups, in other words, can command much higher, and at times fabricated, valuations. One successful venture capitalist told me that he recently met with a unicorn [tech start-ups valued at $1 billion and upward] that was seeking a new round of funding. When he asked the C.E.O. why he had valued his company at $1 billion, he was told, "We need to be worth a billion dollars to be able to recruit new engineers. So we decided that was our valuation."

Keith's note: Silicon Valley is space business crazy right now. Everyone seems to want to have a space start-up and some of them are now buying out and devouring one another - based on hype, imaginary valuation, and the promises of space snake oil salesmen. There are smart people out there - with smart ideas and sound business plans. So far they seem to be the exception - not the rule. I have seen this movie before. Unless some actual products (with profits) emerge this bubble is bound to burst - regardless of whether Silicon Valley itself pops. As a friend of mine often says, this must have been what it was like when Rome was about to start burning.

Annual Invitation for Public Nominations by US Citizens for Service on NASA Federal Advisory Committees

"NASA announces its annual invitation for public nominations for service on NASA Federal advisory committees. U.S. citizens may submit self-nominations for consideration as potential members of NASA's Federal advisory committees. NASA's Federal advisory committees have member vacancies from time to time throughout the year, and NASA will consider self-nominations to fill such intermittent vacancies. NASA is committed to selecting members to serve on its Federal advisory committees based on their individual expertise, knowledge, experience, and current/past contributions to the relevant subject area."

NASA Deploys Congressional Rover To Search For Funding, The Onion

"Calling the program "the most crucial in the agency's history," researchers at NASA announced Wednesday they have successfully deployed a Special Exploratory Rover to Congress as part of an open-ended mission to seek out any possible trace of funding on Capitol Hill. The rover, named Hope, is a remotely operated, semi-autonomous vehicle outfitted with ultra-sensitive equipment that can detect even the smallest amounts of program-sustaining revenue, NASA scientists confirmed."

SMAP Radar Fails But Mission Continues

"Mission managers for NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory have determined that its radar, one of the satellite's two science instruments, can no longer return data. ... The SMAP spacecraft continues normal operations and the first data release of soil moisture products is expected in late September. "Although some of the planned applications of SMAP data will be impacted by the loss of the radar, the SMAP mission will continue to produce valuable science for important Earth system studies," said Dara Entekhabi, SMAP Science Team lead at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. On July 7, SMAP's radar stopped transmitting due to an anomaly involving the radar's high-power amplifier (HPA)."

Keith's note: Wow. JPL is sure spinning this bad news on this $915 million mission. That's almost a billion dollars. The radar was at the core of SMAP's mission i.e. "one of the satellite's two science instruments". It failed. Sure, other stuff still works but that radar broke after only a few months. But JPL PAO wants you to think that "The SMAP spacecraft continues normal operations." So, I guess radar failure is considered "normal"?

Singapore-made device survives rocket explosion, The Straits Times

"Last October, scientists at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), National University of Singapore, were horrified when the Antares rocket exploded just seconds after take-off from a launch pad in Virginia, in the US. ... The CQT scientists thought their 300g device, embedded in a Danish satellite called GomX-2 in the rocket, and costing $12,000, had been lost. But they have been told that the satellite was found on a beach near the launch site and returned to GomSpace, the company in Denmark that built it. Assistant Professor Alexander Ling, a CQT principal investigator, told The Straits Times: "Just after the SG50 weekend, our Danish colleagues rebooted the satellite, and they sent us some data."

Expedition 45 Is In Orbit

Expedition 45 With Visiting Crew Launch to the International Space Station (with video)

"Expedition 45 Soyuz Commander Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and visiting crew members Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency (Kazcosmos) launched on the Russian Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on Sept. 2, Kazakh time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan bound for the International Space Station."

SpaceX wins patent round against Bezos' Blue Origin, PoliticoPro (subscription)

"The decision to invalidate the patent was issued Thursday at Blue Origin's request. The company received a mostly unfavorable preliminary ruling in March and informed the review board that it has submitted a new patent application for its product."

Blue Origin's rocket-landing patent canceled in victory for SpaceX, Geek Wire

"In an order made public today, the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board granted a motion to cancel the remaining 13 of 15 claims in the Blue Origin rocket-landing patent. Blue Origin itself had made the motion to cancel those claims, effectively acknowledging that its case was lost."

- USPTO Order
- SpaceX and Blue Origin Patent Skirmish, earlier post
- SpaceX Barge Landing Patent Petition Challenge Denied - and Accepted, earlier post
- SpaceX Challenges Patent Filed by Blue Origin, earlier post
- Who Invented The Space Barge?, earlier post

Video: AIAA Space Conference - Executive Vision Discussion

"The annual AIAA Space conference is underway. In this plenary session government, business, and academic leaders engage in conversation about the direction of change in the space industry and the trends impacting future developments in space science, military space, space launch, and space exploration."

SpaceX's next launch delayed longer than expected, LA Times

"SpaceX said its next launch will be delayed longer than expected after the June 28 accident that destroyed its unmanned ship carrying cargo to the International Space Station. The Hawthorne-based company is still "a couple months away from the next flight," Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said Monday at a scientific forum in Pasadena. "We're taking more time than we originally envisioned to get back to flight," she said. "But I don't think any of our customers wants us to race to the cliff and fail again."

Keith's note: Note: SpaceX discusses their upcoming Falcon 9 launch schedule.

$79 for an Out-of-Date Book About a Modern NASA Logo, NY Times

"For $79 plus shipping, you can buy a reprint of a long-obsolete federal government publication. The captivating title? "National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual." It may not be a page turner, but among certain design and space aficionados, it is a cherished piece of history. A Kickstarter campaign begun on Tuesday aims to raise $158,000 to finance a high-quality hardcover printing of this bureaucratic relic."

LOST IN SPACE; Meatballs Devour Worms!!, NY Times (1999)

"Keith Cowing, an ex-NASA payload manager who documents worm sightings on the NASA Watch Web site, raps Goldin's subordinates for obsessively hiding the worm from the boss. A NASA spokesman protests, saying the agency is worming itself -- harmlessly -- over time (old letterhead will be used up, etc.): ''If someone decides they better go and eradicate this, that or the other thing, it's not because of Goldin.''

From Worms to Meatballs -- NASA Talk Traces Emblematic History, 2013

Reissue of the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual, Kickstarter

Keith's note: Alas, my old NASAWatch "Worm Watch" feature fell offline a long time ago when we did a website update. I always thought that my "wormball" would have been the perfect compromise. Oh well. Truth be known, the whole impetus behind the meatball Vs worm logo change speaks much more to Goldin's interest in getting NASA to change than an actual obsession with the logo - even if it seemed that way at the time. Indeed, it was emblematic of the issue of resistance to change with NASA. If someone could not follow a simple concept and managerial direction of replacing a logo then how could they be expected to do more the complex things needed to transform the agency?


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